Day 1: Join trip in Belem
We arrive today in Belem and check-in to our centrally located hotel.
Day 2: Walking tour of Belem; chance to visit the Goeldi Museum
Our journey begins in the port city of Belem, situated at the Guaraja Bay in the eastern part of the vast Amazon delta. In the late 1800s, the city owed much of its wealth to the burgeoning rubber trade, and we see this history played out in the number of colonial-era buildings found within Belem's downtown district. There are Portuguese-tiled houses, a fortress and beautiful baroque churches to visit, and this morning our Explore Leader will navigate us through some of the city's main sights. One of the most noteworthy is certainly the Ver-o-Peso market with its distinctive steeple towers and central position on the docks of the city. This huge public market stocks everything imaginable from meat, fish, and medicinal plants, to arts and crafts and even a specialised market selling only the endemic acai berry, a staple of the Brazilian Amazon populations.
The afternoon is at our leisure to wander around the shady streets of Belem. A visit to the Museu Goeldi is a perfect introduction to the culture, fauna and flora of the Amazon region, or alternatively a trip up to the fortress is a great place to watch the sunset over the city. Belem is also the Amazon's culinary capital, using many indigenous plants and fruits, as well as plenty of fresh seafood. Our Explore Leader will recommend one of the city's many excellent traditional restaurants to sample a typical dinner, washed down with an obligatory caipirinha.
Day 3: Public boat to Marajo Island; explore the village and beach
Rising early this morning we head to the port to catch our public boat across to Marajo Island, a land mass in the Amazon River Delta that is bigger than the Netherlands. The boat journey takes approximately 3.5 hrs, and is somewhat an experience in itself as we follow the lush banks of the island, hopefully spotting monkeys up in the tree branches. Upon arrival we will drive to our pousada (local inn), situated on a cliff overlooking Joanes Beach, a deserted stretch of Atlantic coastline harbouring fresh water, the influence of the mouth of the Amazon. This afternoon we may take the opportunity to take a canoe trip on the Rio Limao, or walk along the miles of deserted beaches.
Day 4: Full day on Marajo Island; wildlife tour
The open grasslands of Marajo Island flood during the rainy months, creating a year-round wetland habitat that is excellent for wildlife spotting. It is particularly well known for its water buffalo - the story goes that some 150 years ago, a ship heading for the West Indies, carrying a herd of Indian water buffalo, sank off the Marajo coast. Most of the cattle were adept swimmers, and eventually reached the shore, making their home on the island, where they proliferate today in both a wild and domestic setting. They are used commonly in agriculture as well as being a common form of transport around the island. The diverse landscape of the island, with its rainforests, savannas, wetlands, beaches and mangroves, has developed a thriving eco system. There are all kinds of birds, including the red ibis, macaws, parrots and the 'missing link' hoatzin (the only bird with claws on its wings), as well as capybara, monkeys, and sloths hidden in the trees. We experience this wild setting today. Returning first to the port, we board a motorized canoe to take us upriver to a buffalo farm. The journey lasts 45 minutes but may be longer if we find any animals along the way. At the farm we enjoy a regional lunch with items produced on the farm - buffalo meat and cheese is a definite. We can head through the farm pastures looking for wildlife, and take a river journey to search for alligators, sloths and birds etc, before returning to the port and our lodge. This excursion will be the best place to view wildlife throughout the entire trip due to the island's open landscape - although the Amazon rainforest is full of animals, it is difficult to see them.
Day 5: Return to Belem; begin 2 night boat trip from Belem to Monte Alegre
Heading back to Belem this morning we arrive in time for lunch at one of the restaurants in town. We are able to take a leisurely lunch before returning to the port to board our second boat of the trip for the journey to Monte Alegre. This public boat is well equipped with comfortable twin cabins with air conditioning, a shower and WC, and buffet-style meals are all served on the boat. You will need to bring a lightweight sleeping bag liner (a sheet or two will also suffice) and a towel, as not all bedding is provided. You will be certain to taste feijoada during your boat journey, Brazil's leading national dish of beans with meat and various other ingredients. This first evening we watch the vanishing lights of Belem as we set off on our way to Monte Alegre.
Day 6: On the boat; watch life on the Amazon pass by; stargazing
This first day on board takes us through narrow waterways with abundant rainforest, and typical 'caboclo' dwellings on stilts, built to cope with the fluctuating water levels. Caboclo communities are descended from the mixture of the indigenous populations and the white adventurers, such as rubber tappers and prospectors. We have a look into their lives on the riverbank as we travel, seeing them wash clothes, fish and travel to school by canoe or boat. Throughout our journey from Belem to Monte Alegre, we will be stopping in various locations in the Amazon Basin to see the busy ports and the loading and unloading of cargo, taking in the colourful atmosphere. The towns and cities of Breves, Gurupa, Almeirim, and Prainha are usually frequented depending on the shipping needs. If the stop is long enough we can descend the boat for a local beer, or to buy souvenirs or necessities for the trip.
Day 7: On the boat; watch life on the Amazon pass by; stargazing
This morning we awake on the mighty Amazon proper, 10-15km wide in parts, finding ourselves observing both banks at a distance and taking in the atmosphere of this incredible place. One of the highlights of this trip is the sky at night - away from city lights, we have unparalleled stargazing opportunities. The bar on the upper deck is the best place to watch the sunset, and also gives us the perfect chance to mingle with our fellow travellers, enjoying a game of cards or chatting about our mutual travel experiences. Some of the other travellers may be sleeping out on the hammock deck - if you buy a souvenir hammock in Belem you are more than welcome to leave your cabin and sleep out on deck as well. This evening we arrive late into the town, somewhere between 8pm and midnight.
Day 8: Option to discover ancient rock paintings; drive to Vale do Paraiso
For those who want to rise early, we have the chance to travel to the Serra do Erere - a spot of great anthropological and historical importance. It was here that the archaeologist Anna Roosevelt (granddaughter of the former US president) studied the petroglyphs and rock paintings found on the jagged peaks protruding through the jungle, and sparked her belief that the native people in this area could not have been descendants of the original indigenous people who populated North America across the Bering Strait. Her findings in the Painted Rock Cave (part of the Serra do Erere) were dated 10 to 11 thousand years ago. In the present-day Serra do Erere, not only can we witness these important caves and petroglyphs, but we also take a short hike to be rewarded by stunning views over the vast Amazon floodplains.
Those who have opted to remain in Monte Alegre will enjoy a relaxed morning discovering this 300 year old town and its typical Portuguese-style buildings. Before lunch we set off via dusty red dirt roads for the hidden rainforest paradise of Vale do Paraiso. Along the way we pass simple huts and rickety wooden bridges through the Amazon region. We arrive in the late afternoon to our cabins, and can spend the rest of the afternoon walking the trails and exploring the forest.
Day 9: Free day in Vale do Paraiso; options include waterfall swimming and local farm visit
Vale do Paraiso is situated in a leafy valley, its river carving a path through the steep forest walls. It is known best for its three waterfalls, between 12-35m high, with dark pools that are perfect for swimming. A path connects the three falls, making it a wonderful place to cool off after walking in the humidity. The first fall is near to the pousada and easy enough to take a dip there on our own steam. A local guide will take us to the second and third falls, which are located at 30 minute intervals from each other, through dense jungle and along the river bed. These beautiful waterfalls are great for swimming, surrounded by the rainforest. Upstream, a small settlement of subsistence farmers survives off the land. In the afternoon we visit their community to learn more about their crops and way of live, before returning to the lodge for our overnight stay.
Day 10: Travel to the river beaches of Alter do Chao
Leaving our rainforest paradise this morning, we drive to Alenquer, where a speedboat awaits us to take us through the narrow Amazon creeks across to the town of Santarem. We head immediately 35km south to the laid-back town of Alter do Chao. Best known for its beautiful white-sandy beach and transparent waters (an unusual site for anyone expecting the muddy brown Amazon), it is also idyllically situated on a blue lagoon and flanked by forest reserves. The town has attracted many beachside dwellers, and there is a lively feel to the town with Carimbo (Amazonian folk music) being played by many of the small local bars. This afternoon is free to explore, swim and relax in these surroundings. You may wish to head to one of the open-air restaurants, where chairs and tables are placed in the warm water of the lagoon, with only the tabledesk above the water level, and fish swim around you as you eat.
Day 11: Free day in Alter do Chao; chance to visit local communities or rubber tree plantation
Today is free to enjoy the lush green surroundings and white sand beaches of Alter do Chao. There are many options here, including the opportunity to visit the nearby caboclo community (the descendants of indigenous people and Portuguese colonists) where we can observe life in a typical Amazon village. Alternatively, visit a former Ford rubber plantation and learn about the boom and bust of the rubber industry in Brazil, head to the FLONA nature reserve, or get active with canoeing or stand-up paddle boarding on the Tapajos River.
Day 12: Fly to Manaus and board private boat
This morning is free to enjoy the final hours along the river at Alter do Chao. In the afternoon we transfer to Santarem airport and fly to Manaus (taking into account the time zone change, this journey takes a mere 10 minutes!). There is not a great deal in this jungle city to hold us here, but we take a quick visit to the impressive Teatro Amazonas, a 19th Century neo-classical style opera house that is frankly a work of art, before heading to the port to board our private boat. This really is the climax of our Amazon journey as we cruise down the Rio Negro for 3 nights, sleeping in hammocks under the stars. On board our boat is a galley, a small bar and basic washing facilities. We will be sleeping on deck, so be prepared for a certain lack of privacy. Hammocks are of course provided, but they are also found in abundance in Belem and Manaus, and many people like to buy one as a souvenir and use it on the boat. Alternatively, sleeping mats on deck can be provided if you request one before travelling. Your Explore Leader can tell you the right way to sleep in a hammock (diagonally) in order to get the best night's sleep!
Day 13: Rio Negro boat trip; visit indigenous communities
Near the city of Manaus is the 'Meeting of the Waters' - the point at which the black Rio Negro and the brown Solimoes come together and continue towards the coast under the name of the Amazon. The rivers run separately for several miles, and we will see this curious colour split as we sail. During the course of the 3 days on board the boat, we will be seeing the huge Victoria Regia water lily, birdwatching and spotting the pink Amazon river dolphins playing alongside the boat. We have motorised canoes on the boat with us and will be using them to explore the riverbanks and jungle trails off the boat. We visit another caboclo family as well as an indigenous community in order to learn more about how they live in this rainforest environment. One of the most interesting parts is learning about how they use the plants and trees around them - each one of them has a meaning and a use. We will be exploring jungle trails with our guides and Explore Leader, as well as discovering the huge river archipelago of Anavilhanas, which has more than 1000 islands and abundant aquatic life, including alligators and dolphins. In the evening we can do night outings to spot dark caiman and alligators, or catch a piranha supper. This trip gives us a real expedition feeling while still travelling in the relative luxury of our boat.
Day 14: Rio Negro boat trip; sail through the Anavilhanas archipelago of 1000 islands
Our final full day on the boat brings our Amazon exploration to an end, and hopefully we will have caught a glimpse of 'the real thing'. Our ideas of the Amazon are so often glamorised - weird and wonderful birds flying overhead, animals popping out of the forest canopy every two minutes and spear-toting indigenous tribes behind each tree. This journey is dedicated to discovering this incredible world region, and should defy some of the myths whilst giving us a sense of understanding and appreciation for this amazing ecosystem. Our guides and crew will make this part of the trip unforgettable.
Day 15: Arrival in Manaus; fly to Rio de Janeiro; free afternoon
This morning we disembark in Manaus before flying to Rio in the afternoon. We arrive in the late evening, and transfer to our hotel.
Day 16: Trip ends in Rio
Your tour ends this morning in Rio. For those people flying out on an evening flight, this is the perfect opportunity to spend a day in Rio. The Christ the Redeemer statue is well worth the visit for a first timer, otherwise, for an alternative experience of Rio, the bohemian neighbourhood of Santa Teresa is full of cafes, art galleries and bars, and an excellent place to spend an afternoon. Time permitting, we recommend booking post-tour accommodation in Rio so that you can explore a little more of the city.
Touring with Explore
Explore have been creating award-winning adventures for over 35 years and are experts when it comes to unique travel experiences.
Their small group adventure holidays have been running since 1981 and today, Explore are one of the most trusted travel companies in the UK with over 600 trips to more than 130 countries. At Explore, they are passionate about travel and have developed a wide range of unique activities and experiences which gives their customers an unforgettable adventure with a team of award-winning Explore leaders .
With Explore, you'll get to see your destination from a whole new perspective that takes you away from the typical well-trodden tourist track. You'll have the chance to meet, dine and stay with local people, rest in authentic accommodation with other like-minded explorers and travel to must-see destinations with a unique Explore twist.
From family trips to holidays for solo travellers; cycling tours to wildlife safaris; trekking on mountains or exploring miles of scenic coastline; self-guided holidays or small group trips; there is something for every kind of traveller with Explore. They will provide their expert knowledge, exciting itineraries and outstanding service as part of their sustainable travel experiences which take you under the skin of the country you're visiting for the adventure of a lifetime.